Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit.

This must-read article looks at the power of imagery and photography in the growing business of global voluntourism - a popular trend amongst youth from Western countries that involves young, and sometimes inexperienced, individuals paying large amounts of money to travel to ‘developing’ nations to do everything from teaching, to building schools and providing healthcare. 

Whilst intentions may be well-meaning, aside from the patronizing aspect of these projects that resemble colonial missionary missions, the very fact that volunteering has been turned into a for-profit business is of major concern. So why does voluntourism still continue to be popular? According to Lauren Kascak & Sayantani DasGupta at the Pacific Standard, photography plays a significant role in the recruiting of people to participate in these programs.

As Kascak and DasGupta say:

Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography—particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children—is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

One of the writers themselves was inspired to become a “voluntourist” for this very reason citing “photographs posted by other students” as the inspiration that propelled them to go on their first overseas “medical mission”:

When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even pre-meditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most Likes.

With time however, she became “uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs” and decided not to take her camera along. One of the things I’ve always wondered about concerning voluntourism and other noble charity missions is why the need for all the press and cameras? Why the need to take the same types of photographs of the same kinds of work by the same kinds of people? It seems I, and many others, are not the only ones with these critical thoughts in mind. That’s because, as the writers say, “voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit.” It’s a self-serving mission fueled by a mixture of narcissism and ignorance. As Kascak observed whilst on her medical mission trip in Ghana (a hotspot for many western volunteers),

“I realized that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.”

Kascak and DasGupta have broken down the three most common types of voluntourist photographs, as per their observations.

THE SUFFERING OTHER

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph …

… must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

THE SELF-DIRECTED SAMARITAN

Here we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, so vulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10-day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

THE OVERSEAS SELFIE

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are…. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning—there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the Internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community. but rather as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

#intagrammingafrica: The narcissism of global voluntourism.

By Lauren Kascak with Sayantani DasGupta PhD

An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”  The article quotes “22-year old Angela Fisher” who says:

I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.

It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”

I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.

***

I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips – critically called voluntourism — are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer.  Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource.  Photography – particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children – is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even premeditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most “likes.”

Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.

The Suffering Other

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph…

…must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

The Self-directed Samaritan

Above we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, sovulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10 day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On PhotographySusan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

The Overseas Selfie

[Photo removed in response to a request from Global Brigades.]

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are … In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning – there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community but rather, as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

***

Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iphones at home.

Lauren Kascak is a graduate of the Masters Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, where Sayantani DasGupta is a faculty member.  DasGupta is the editor of Stories of Illness and Healing and the author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories and Her Own Medicine.

vimeo

‘Africa Does Not Need A Savior, America Needs A Savior’

by Britni Danielle | clutchmagonline.com

Framed: A new film rejects America’s white savior complex.

When it comes to the continent of Africa, only a few stories find their way to the mainstream. While the continent is home to more than 50 countries full of diverse people and cultures, Western media often focuses on issues of war, poverty, disease, and corruption, leading many Americans to believe they must “save” Africa.

We’ve seen it time and time again through seemingly innocent initiatives like the Kony 2012 movement or celebrity-driven campaigns to heal/help/teach Africa. Though the intentions of those who participate in such projects may be good, their willingness to believe they can “save” an entire continent of people who are more than capable of “saving” themselves (if it’s even necessary), is naïve at best, and downright condescending at worst.

After I wrote about Witherspoon’s upcoming film The Good Lie in which she plays a hardscrabble white woman who “saves” a group of Sudanese refugees, filmmaker Cassandra Herrman reached out to me to tell me about her documentary, Framed, which takes a look at America’s savior complex.

In FramedHerrman and her team interview Africans from all over the continent to get their take on the West’s savior industrial complex, which has resulted in students, celebrities, and non-government organizations (NGOs) flocking to the continent, because as Binyavanga Wainaina put it, in their view “Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated.”

Here’s more info about film via the Framed Kickstarter page:

FRAMED takes a provocative look at image making and activism, following an inspiring young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient. As he challenges American students to focus their efforts close to home, FRAMED turns a lens on popular representations of Africa and Africans, as seen through the eyes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina and South African born educator Zine Magubane, who ask a chorus of questions about the selling of suffering.

FRAMED tells the story of Boniface Mwangi’s work as an image maker and image changer. From the moment he saw how his own photography could heal Kenyan wounds, he repurposed images of violence to promote reconciliation, and rallied his peers to jumpstart a creative and political youth movement.  Visiting an American college, he challenges students to turn their attention to struggling communities around them. “Why do you want to fly all that way, and on your way to the airport you pass poverty, to go and help poverty in Kenya?”

Along the way, we meet Zine Magubane, who was born in South Africa and teaches American college students at Boston College about the portrayal of Africa in American media and pop culture.  “When you see celebrity activists in Darfur or elsewhere,” she says, “you’d think there were no African think tanks, no African universities, no African human rights lawyers working on this issue”.

Framed’s filmmakers are hoping to raise $28,000 to complete production on the documentary; so far, they’ve gotten just over $13,000 in donations and have 15 days left.

Watch the powerful clip of Framed belowVisit the film’s Kickstarter page for more info and to donate.

Source: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2014/06/africa-need-savior-america-needs-savior/

I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.
Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.
When (especially white) people say they would rather *go there and build something myself* than donate money to organizations in impoverished countries / areas

image

If you have no skills, no knowledge of the country or culture, no idea what´s really needed, you won´t help, you´ll be a burden. Just because you´re white and from a rich country does not mean that you can magically help people who you think need your saving. fu.

(I liked this article: "Is ‘voluntourism’ the new colonialism?")

5 Crazy Cool Vacations that Help You Save the World

A story I wrote for Yahoo Travel…

Next time you’re on vacation, how about saving the world while you’re at it? Ok, perhaps not the whole world, but every little bit helps-right? Around the globe, companies are offering travelers the chance to join in their conservation efforts with hands-on, a-once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  Whether your passionate about nature, culture, or wildlife, these five voluntourism adventures are equal parts thrilling and worthwhile. 

Check it out

By BY LAUREN KASCAK & SAYANTANI DASGUPTA | June 19, 2014

"Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit.” 

An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a six-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s Facebook profile picture.”  The article quotes “22-year-old Angela Fisher” who says:

I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.

It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”

I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.

I HAVE PARTICIPATED IN not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips—critically called voluntourism—are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography—particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children—is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even pre-meditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most Likes.

Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.

THE SUFFERING OTHER

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph …

… must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

THE SELF-DIRECTED SAMARITAN

Here we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, so vulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10-day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

THE OVERSEAS SELFIE

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are…. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning—there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the Internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community. but rather as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

VOLUNTOURISM IS ULTIMATELY ABOUT the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iPhones at home.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism.”

Source: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/business-economics/instagrammingafrica-narcissism-global-voluntourism-83838/

Stephanie Lai draws on her international development expertise to advise you on how not to do voluntourism badly.

I wrote an article! In a world where I know people are gonna insist on travelling to volunteer, I talk about assumptions, colonialism, and how not to do it, without being too mean. (I’m a little mean, but this is like version four and it is WAY softer than it was when I started) 

Ossob Mohamud | Wednesday 13 February 2013 | theguardian.com 

I recently came across an interesting article questioning voluntourism and assessing whether it does more harm than good in communities of the global south. It reminded me of my own concerns with “voluntourism” that originated in my college years in which I had participated in Alternative Spring Breaks. It was considered an alternative to what most college students did on their vacations: spending idle time by the poolside. The university-organised trips sent students to spend a week in disadvantaged and poverty-stricken communities to volunteer. This could take the form of teaching English at the local school, assisting in building and beautifying new homes for residents, or environmental cleanups. Interspersed throughout the week were also touristy getaways and souvenir shopping. Although I had memorable and rewarding moments, I could never shake off the feeling that it was all a bit too self-congratulatory and disingenuous.

Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis–à–vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals’ history, culture, and ways of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering, that seems to be enough. In my own experiences – also highlighted by the author of the article – this has led to condescending and superficial relationships that transform the (usually western) volunteer into a benevolent giver and the community members into the ever grateful receivers of charity. It makes for an extremely uncomfortable dynamic in which one begins to wonder if these trips are designed more for the spiritual fulfillment of the volunteer rather than the alleviation of poverty.

I couldn’t help feeling ashamed at the excessive praise and thanks we received from locals and those on the trip alike. I cringed as we took complimentary photos with African children whose names we didn’t know. We couldn’t even take full credit for building the houses because most of the work had already been done by community members. In fact, if anything we slowed down the process with our inexperience and clumsiness. And how many schools in the west would allow amateur college students to run their English classes for a day? What had I really done besides inflate my own ego and spruce up my resume? I had stormed into the lives of people I knew nothing about, I barely engaged with them on a genuine level, and worst of all, I then claimed that I had done something invaluable for them all in a matter of five days (of which most of the time was spent at hotel rooms, restaurants, and airports).

An entire industry has sprouted out of voluntourism as it increases in popularity, possibly equal to the increase in global inequality. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too it seems does the need for those of the global north to assuage the guilt of their privilege (paradoxically, guilt only seems to deepen as many realise the illusory effect of their impact), or to simply look good. The developing world has become a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices by escaping the vacuity of modernity and globalisation.

But does this address the root institutional and structural causes of the problem? I do not mean to deny, across the board, the importance of the work voluntourists do. Volunteers in developing countries fund and deliver great programmes that would not happen otherwise, but the sustainability and the effectiveness of the approach is what I question. Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organisations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from an unjust global economic order. Why not advocate and campaign for IMF and World Bank reforms? How about having volunteers advocate for their home country to change aggressive foreign and agricultural policies (such as subsidy programmes)? This might seem unrealistic but the idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly invested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/13/beware-voluntourists-doing-good

3

For the last 25 years, the man known as Joe the Barber has been offering homeless people in Hartford, Connecticut haircuts in exchange for hugs.

Anthony Cymerys started offering his services to those less fortunate in 1988, after hearing a sermon about the homeless. He had just retired and was only cutting hair for family, but those inspiring words he had heard in church made him decide he didn’t want the homeless looking like homeless anymore. So he prepared his tools, put them in the car and started driving around town looking for people in need of his services. In the beginning, he helped people in shelters and convalescent homes, then he cut hair in downtown YMCA for years, before moving to the carousel near Bushnell Park. Every Wednesday, the wooden benches on the Elm Street side of the park are packed with homeless people waiting for a relaxing haircut, shave and facial massage from the 82-year-old Joe.

As soon as he parks his 1996 Crown Victoria and connects his clippers to the car battery, Cymerys is assaulted with questions about who should be the first in his barber chair. He asks his “customers” about the desired haircut style, and starts clipping, trimming and shaving. After that, Joe splashes some rubbing alcohol on his hands and proceeds to massage face, ears, neck, throat and shoulders. All he asks in exchange is a nice big hug. ”It really is love. I love these guys.That’s what it’s all about,” Anthony told the Associated Press. Giving haircuts may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but it’s actually very important. Homeless people have a hard time finding jobs because of the way the look, so Joe is really helping them out of a hairy situation in more ways than one.

Joe the Barber’s altruism has inspired others to help the homeless of Hartford. Ed Galler and Betty Magee, among others, wanted to help Joe out, so they started handing out home-cooked meals to people who fell on hard times. ”The first couple of times I came with Joe, so I felt safe,” Magee said. “Then after you’re here a couple of times, you realize it’s fine.”


anonymous said:

There's an article floating around the internet called 'The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism', it reminded me a lot of you and I think you should read it. Very interesting points, may change your perspective on all those "good" things you do.

I have read “The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism”. Several of my friends have shared it on Facebook throughout the week. I’m glad that you left this message, despite your anonymity and rather condescending parenthetical use of the word “good”, because I’ve been meaning to address this complicated topic.

 

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There are several issues that I have with the piece, the title alone being a topic worthy of criticism. One of author Pippa Biddle’s central arguments is that as a “5’4” white girl”, she simply has little use working in the developing world due to her biological attributes. She attempts to appear as a pragmatist by ostracizing herself from foreign work due to perceived limitations emanating from her stature, race and gender. But doesn’t this violate the very basic principle of social equality, that we all have something valuable to contribute to humanity regardless of societal norms, which is preached by self-professed civil rights and feminist activists?  

Pippa recounts her experience as a volunteer in Tanzania with a group of 14 white girls and “1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania.” This statement, as well as the title of the article, downplays the contribution that people of color are increasingly providing abroad. She neglects to write about the large numbers of Hispanic, African and Asian Americans who sign up every year as volunteers for non-profits, missionary trips and voluntourism programs. Considering that the one black girl on the trip was perceived as much of an outsider to the Tanzanians as the white volunteers, mentioning the races of the “little white girls” at all appears forced and unnecessary. A more befitting title for the article could have been “The Problem with Little American Boys, Girls and Voluntourism”. 

 

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While in Tanzania, Pippa’s group was given the task of constructing a library. She explains that their construction skills were limited and how every night “the men” (it’s unstated whether they were fellow volunteers or Tanzanian workers) had to rebuild their shoddy work. I wasn’t in Tanzania with Pippa’s organization, but based on her article, I would attribute their failed project not towards the race or gender of the volunteers, but rather to the fact that it consisted almost entirely of high school students with limited work experience. Pippa acknowledges her lack of skills for the job she was assigned, admitting “I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries.” From my personal experiences abroad, we did have individuals with these skills, but we also had many unskilled volunteers such as myself who worked together and accomplished extraordinary things.

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Last summer, I volunteered with a non-profit on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge is one of the single poorest regions of the United States with living conditions comparable to that of the Global South. While serving in Pine Ridge as a college student, I was hardly a skilled laborer or working professional. However, I did have an open mind and willingness to work, which allowed me lend a hand in various projects around the reservation. Despite my lack of carpentry skills beyond middle school wood shop, under careful instructions by the non-profit’s staff and fellow volunteers, I was able to construct bunk beds for children that had been requested by a relative of the great Chief Red Cloud. I know little about gardening, but that knowledge was superfluous as I spent several hours turning mulch and killing insects on an organic garden operated by a progressive Lakota family. And although I’m not a lumberjack (despite my beard and closet full of flannel shirts), I ventured into the Black Hills and collected beetle infested trees for tribal elders to use as firewood during the coming winter. And it wasn’t just me, the young white male doing all the labor; the women actually outnumbered the men on our team and consistently toiled alongside us. One woman, who traveled to Pine Ridge all the way from Japan, had never used tools or performed manual labor in her life because it was taboo back home. Nevertheless, on the “Rez” she was a workhorse who contributed enormously to our collective efforts. Our team successfully completed the tasks we were assigned due to the coordinated effort between volunteers, organizational staff and the local community, all of whom came from varying ethnic, political and socioeconomic backgrounds to provide a better quality of life on the reservation.

 

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The summer before Pine Ridge, I traveled to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with the United Methodist Church’s Volunteers in Mission program. Arriving two years after the massive earthquake that rocked the country, I encountered a nation and people still suffering the traumatic ramifications of physical and emotional destruction. After arriving in Port-au-Prince, my ten member team of volunteers traveled north to the rural town of Leveque where we were the first mission team to arrive at the small Methodist parish since the earthquake. The local community’s church had been badly damaged during the natural disaster and rested uninhabitable for two years. The small congregation began attending their Sunday worship services inside of an adjacent school constructed by the British Methodist Church that also served as our makeshift sleeping quarters.

As the first team to arrive at that particular job site, our job was to demolish the entire structure down to the foundation. My fellow volunteers and myself worked alongside a team of Haitian workers from the local community.  Our binational team developed a close bond as we sledgehammered and carted off rubble with one another. In Haiti, as in Pine Ridge, the women worked right alongside the men at our construction site. At one point, I handed my hammer over to a female friend who I realized was much better at tearing down the walls than I had been. I wasn’t too disappointed though, considering it gave me more time to play soccer and practice my Creole with the kids who were also eager to practice speaking English. After a long workday, we would sit around with the Haitian people and share laughter, conversation and playtime with the children. Many in the local community were fascinated by us and were just as interested in our lives as we were in theirs. They personally invited us into their homes and on the final evening of our trip organized a surprise ceremony out of appreciation for our contribution to their hometown. 

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On a few occasions, however, our American crew and the Haitians workers disagreed on the best demolition methods for particular portions of the church. Two of our leaders, a firefighter and rancher from back home, had concerns over the safety of several walls that were coming down. Ultimately, we agreed to let the Haitian workers proceed with their more dangerous method of bringing down the large concrete blocks. Despite a near injury, fortunately nobody was crippled by the falling structure. We agreed to help with the Haitian workers more dangerous option because our team realized that despite our commitment to safety, the importance of the Haitians rebuilding their homeland and re-establishing their national pride was equally significant. When the last section of the church was to come down, we handed the hammer over to one of the Haitians who brought down the final wall with a mighty swing. The local community burst into applause as we shared hi-five’s and hugs with our new friends. 

In both Pine Ridge and Haiti, I believe we were successful because we worked alongside the people, not simply for them. We always acknowledged that we were guests on their beloved land. Our organizations didn’t tell the people what they needed; we them what they wanted and helped provide the capital and labor required to accomplish those tasks. In Haiti, we also benefited from belonging to the same religious denomination. I’m actually not a Christian myself, and I would have never joined the mission team had our objective been to convert the local community to any particular faith or political ideology. The Lakota and Haitian people have been dealing with that bullshit for several hundred years and don’t need any more of that nonsense. The paperwork that I signed before traveling to both Pine Ridge and Haiti included pledges to abstain from proselytizing and a commitment to respect the culture, religion and people in the regions I was to have the pleasure of visiting.

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Pippa suggests in her article that as a result of her team’s failure in Tanzania, “It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work.” I agree with her proposed system of development, because the end goal for any international aid project should be self-sufficiency in the host country. I dream of the day that the Lakota and Haitian people no longer need help from outsiders and can provide for their own people. However, both regions of the world have incredibly primitive infrastructure and little to no employers or natural resources, not to mention corrupt government bureaucracies, conflicting visions of progress and the scars of a tumultuous history. Pippa’s proposition is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the only option towards progress in impoverished regions. The funds that myself and the other volunteers had raised for the trip paid the salaries of Haitian workers for two weeks and purchased construction materials inside of the country that greatly helped to stimulate the local economy.

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Despite my objections to her article, I admire Pippa’s courage to confess, “It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.” She clearly expresses her belief that the work they were doing wasn’t bad, but that the problem is outsiders working in a society that they are not a part of has a negative impact on the country and its people. However, she does go on to say that international voluntourism “slows down positive growth” and “perpetuates the ‘white savior’ complex” both internally with the volunteers and externally with people they’re trying to help. Based on my personal experiences abroad, I’d have to challenge her assessment. 

My time spent volunteering in Pine Ridge and Haiti has made me a more empathetic, open minded and socially active individual. Whenever friends and family ask about my experiences, I make sure to explain that the people I had sought to help ultimately helped me in ways I could have never imagined. My travels have inspired me to take action in my own community, including feeding the homeless, donating a portion of my income to charity organizations and attempting to live a less materialistic driven life. I volunteered for others, but I also volunteered for myself. The major difference between Pippa’s worldview and my own is that I believe voluntourism benefits both volunteers and the people they seek to help, whereas she doesn’t believe the latter to be true. I like to believe that it makes a positive difference for everyone involved and would encourage anybody regardless of physical limitations, race, gender, religion or nationality to travel the world and experience the wondrous people and places it has to offer. Volunteering abroad is mutually beneficial for everyone involved when practiced properly.

  

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Slow Travel Guide - 5 ways to travel with little or no money

The ever burning question - how can you travel the world, slowly, grow as you see numerous cultures and geography and not be a millionaire to afford it. When I first joined the world travel revolution, I Googled for ages. I read endless articles, some hopeful, some absurd. Overtime, I came to narrow down a few that not only work, but also adds to the meaning of travel.

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  1. WWOOF.org – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
    This one has been around for a long time and chances are that you might have heard about it. Many WWOOFERs are known to have gone round the world, living and working with people who live off the land in the way nature meant to. These folks experience the hosts’ food and way of life, the organic farming methods they use.

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    WWOOF farms are spread across the world with each country having many hosts for a visitor to choose from.  Read through the host examples for any country you are interested in. There are many ways you can help - put up new sign post along walking trails in Argentinian forests, help grow a vineyard in Europe, or work at a martial arts academy in China.

  2. Staydu – ‘stay with locals for work, money, or free’

    I stumbled upon this website recently and totally loved it. Staydu is relatively new. The system is so simple that it’s fascinating. Discover locals who need your help - from being a teacher for a couple of hours, a receptionist, help plant trees or just about anything clean. In return, they offer you accommodation.

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    Some are even free for short durations and they only ask to share grocery expenses on longer stays. An option that is rapidly catching up with backpackers from around the globe. They also have an interesting Travel Companion concept: search for other travellers going your way – be they on the road already or planning a trip for next year. 

  3. WorkAway – ‘the site for travel, language and work exchange’

    Pretty similar to Staydu where “WorkAwayers” stay with a local in the country of their choice while working in local schools, at tourist resorts, in eco-development projects and more.

  4. HelpX ‘an online list of hosts who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation’

  5. CouchSurf – ‘explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places you encounter’

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    Perhaps the big daddy of them all, CouchSurfing is an old favourite of many experienced travellers. It’s a community driven angle where you count on each other’s good will to offer you a place to stay in their home, completely free.

I have heard quite a bit about voluntourism and its detrimental impact on local communities. However, I think that edutourism is also an enormous problem. Study abroad programs that lack academic rigor can be just as detrimental to local communities. These programs tend to have lots of fun excursions and often do not differ greatly from “voluntourism” and traditional tourism.

The idea that you can really “learn” about a country/ culture in a few weeks is ridiculous. Furthermore, the idea that you can claim any sort of deep cultural understanding without speaking the country’s language is absurd. It is not easy to learn about a new country/culture, but the only way to “really” do it is to spend several months cramming a grammar book and talking to strangers. Sorry its not like a vacation! Its messy, embarrassing and really hard!

I think it interesting that so many of these “edutourism” programs are becoming so popular at universities. The idea that you can go abroad for 2-3 weeks and come back fluent in a foreign language. Oh, and because you saw all of the tourist sites you have a deep cultural understanding of the country. I think that people are trying to “pay” for knowledge that they can get quickly and easily. While access to education is definitely a class issue (and very expensive), there is only so much “knowledge” you can buy. Ultimately, you cannot purchase determination and a good work ethic.

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